Italian families at risk from cheap imports, says group

Farm group says health risks with many foreign food products

Italian families at risk from cheap imports, says group

(By Sandra Cordon) Brussels, May 31 - Cash-strapped Italian families may be risking their own health by opting for lower quality, imported food products that may appear to be cheaper but could carry high long-term costs, farm group Coldiretti said. Researchers with the organization say that as many as six in 10 Italian families are choosing lower-cost food items that may be cheaper because they have not been properly processed before sale in Italy. To support that claim Coldiretti, which represents agricultural producers across the country, said that incidents of food contamination are increasing. The number of warnings about contaminated, imported foods - from tomatoes to nuts - has risen by 26% in 2013, according to the group. As examples, it points to tomatoes imported last year and labelled as problematic because of chemical residue; nuts from Turkey that were contaminated with mold; and honey from China that was deemed unsafe. From eastern Europe came semi-cooked or frozen bread products with a two-year shelf life because they are filled with additives and preservatives, claimed the report. "In short, it's a snapshot of the risks of low-cost food," said the president of Coldiretti, Sergio Marini. As Italy endures its second full year of recession, consumers are cutting spending wherever possible. Recent data shows that grocery shopping is the only part of the family budget where spending has actually increased slightly. But Coldiretti fears the extra spending is on quantity, not quality, of food. The group has submitted its report to the European Union leadership in the hope they will "enhance the EU agricultural policies, ensuring environmental and food safety of citizens". It also hopes that both the EU and the Italian government will do more to protect agricultural production. According to Coldiretti's research, the situation is much the same across Europe - consumers buying the cheapest products without realizing where and how they arrived in the local supermarket. The group said that 80% of Europe-wide food warnings last year related to low-cost food coming from non-EU countries. Worst offenders? "China, India and Turkey," said Coldiretti. The European agency for food security has highlighted some products that have drawn a large number of complaints, says Coldiretti, including peppers from India and Uganda, tomatoes from China, oranges from Egypt, beans from Morocco, peas from Kenya. Coldiretti also complained that impostor foods are undermining the world's appreciation of some of Italy's top products, including Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses.

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